BELLEVILLE — Althoff High School cross country coach Gary Calhoun still remembers the first time he saw Savannah Ames run.
Calhoun's reaction? "Wow."
"I knew she was special.'' Calhoun said. "You could see she had a lot of talent and her potential was limitless.''
Four years, four state medals and numerous titles and accolades later, Ames is ready to take that next step after signing a national letter of intent Wednesday to attend Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Ky.
With her parents Ron and Susan Ames, Calhoun and Althoff track and field coach Roscoe Whitfield, as well as other family members and Althoff administration, on hand for a brief ceremony, Ames became a future member of the Hilltoppers' track and cross country programs.
"It feels good to get it done," Ames said. "I've had four great years here at Althoff and I take with me a lot of great memories, but it's time to begin the next phase of my life.
"I know it will be a lot hard work and a challenge, but I feel like I'm ready to move on. I'm excited about the future.''
Ames' future at WKU looks bright after she chose the Hilltoppers over several other mid-major NCAA Division I programs, including Butler and Xavier University in Cincinnati.
Western Kentucky will officially join Conference USA in July after several years in the Sun Belt Conference.
"It's a great school and academically it's also very good. I plan on majoring in physical therapy,'' Ames said. "You hear people say they picked a school because when they got there it felt right. That's what happened when I got to WKU.
"We went and saw the campus. I knew that was where I wanted to go. I actually decided a couple of days before Christmas. I just loved everything about it, the campus, the team, the coaches. ... It was everything I wanted. It's only about 3 1/2 hours from home. That's not bad.''
Ames has been one of the top runners in the St. Louis area for the past four years.
A regional and three-time Belleville city cross country champion, Ames has a pair of all-state medals in cross country, having placed 11th and 19th, respectively, at the Class 1A state cross country meet the past two years.
She also is a two-time all-state runner in track and field, where she has taken fifth and sixth, respectively, at the Class 1A 1,600 meters the past two seasons.
Ames accomplishment in track and field is even more impressive when considering that she splits time playing soccer and competing in track during the spring.
Ames will play both sports again this spring.
"I had some soccer coaches talk to me, but not until I had made up my mind where I was going to college," Ames said. "I'm going to play this spring and enjoy my last season of soccer. It will be tough to give up. But it's time."
Ames has been told by the WKU coaching staff that she will run the 800 and 1,500 for the Hilltoppers, and may even be used in the steeplechase.
Calhoun said the Hilltoppers are getting a great athlete and a better person in Ames.
"Once she gets to college and is able to work with those coaches and concentrate on just running, I think Savannah will be even better,'' Calhoun said. "When (college) coaches would call and ask about her I would tell them that she's an all-state athlete and an All-American person.
"I've got two daughters of my own and Savannah has become like my third daughter. She's a wonderful young lady who has a great future ahead.''